First and Fiftieth
Ten Million Years
The Last Saturday in May
First and Fiftieth
Ben and Joe's
A View from the Edge
God would be an atheist
A grandmother in New England
Holding my hand. The first time we ever held hands was on our first date. Coney Island, the roller coaster. I asked you take me on it. You were not impressed. You were a twenty-eight year old lawyer going places and sitting on some damn fool roller coaster wasn’t one of the places you meant to be. But, like the man you were, you took it in your stride. “Sure,” you said. You were so polite, offering your hand as I stepped into the car. I guess your mother had taught you to treat all women like they were delicate flowers. Well, I didn’t think I was delicate, but I wasn’t going to tell you that. If it made you happy to fuss over me, it made me happy to let you.
That day was so hot, the middle of summer. You were sweating and trying not to show it. There was noise all around us, girls giggling and boys shouting, but I didn’t hear any of it. All I heard and saw was you, five foot ten, slim and handsome on the outside, quiet, determined and considerate on the inside. Pigheaded too, but it took me time to find that out. Anyhow, you waited till I was seated and had my skirt tucked safely under me, then you got in, pulled down the safety bar and, without asking, took my hand and held it. I guess you wanted to reassure me. You reassured me all right, but not in the way you think. It wasn’t the roller coaster I was uncertain of. It was you.
Of course other boys had held my hand, since I was fifteen. But their hands felt different, like they couldn’t sit still, like they were grasping for something. This is just the start, their hands said. When you’re warmed up, I’m going to slide my arm round and get my other hand on your breast. And once you’ve got used to that I’m heading south, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get a home run. Not that any of them ever got that far, although two or three got pretty close. You can’t blame them. They weren’t the only ones exploring, except it was more difficult for girls. Your body and your emotions are all alive and fresh, pulling you this way and that and you don’t know which way to turn. You don’t know what’s right - what’s right for you, what’s right for your boyfriend, and most of all what’s right for your parents who you know are sitting up in bed, watching the clock, unable to sleep until you come in.
But with you it was different. Your hand just sat there, relaxed. Maybe because you were older. Or we were both older and it wasn’t sex we wanted, not right away. Your hand held mine like it was saying I’m here if you need me, nothing more. There it stayed, and I liked it. Even when we were tearing down that slope and rushing round curve after curve, being jerked this way and that, you against me, me against you, me having the time of my life, you pretending you were having fun, whoops and screams all around us, the biggest thrill I had that day was the feel of your hand holding mine.
"Sometimes you sit, watch the trains, the sunset, the rain. Sometimes you talk. Tell your story if you've a mind to. Trouble is, memory changes things. Things you want to forget. Things you want to remember that never happened. Happens to everybody. Gets so, nobody's story's true. Not yours, not mine. But it's all we've got."
First and Fiftieth
The inspiration was Jacques Brel's La Chanson des Vieux Amants ("The Song of the Old Lovers").
It is, as are so many of Brel's songs, both poignant and a celebration of life. It opens in what I believe is a minor key:
"Bien sur, nous eûmes des orages; vingt ans d'amour, c'est l'amour fort". (Of course we had storms; twenty years of love is a love that is strong.)
"Mille fois tu pris ton bagage; mille fois je pris mon envol." (A thousand times you picked up your case; a thousand times I took my leave.)
Brel sings of rage and anger and of infidelity and unhappiness, but quietly, with the wisdom of age. And he returns, in chorus after chorus, pleading, promising, acknowledging: "Mais mon amour, mon doux, mon tendre, mon merveilleux amour, de l'aube claire jusqu'a la fin de jour, je t'aime encore, tu sais, je t'aime." (But my love, my sweet, my tender, my marvellous love, from the light of dawn to the end of the day, I still love you, you know, I love you.)
It was that tempestuousness that I originally wanted to portray. I came close, but characters take you their own way and the woman in Sunset is Anglo, not Latin, calm rather than short-fused, and with a husband who bottled his emotions. No matter. The intensity of the emotion is what is important, and it is the intensity that I hope is portrayed here.
Sunset forms part of Californian Lives, which will receive its second production in September 2013. Details on californianlives.co.uk
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by Martin Foreman